illustration of a scarlet ibis cradling a boy's body

The Scarlet Ibis

by James Hurst

Start Free Trial

What are the similarities between Doodle and the bird in "The Scarlet Ibis"?

Quick answer:

The similarities between the bird and Doodle in "The Scarlet Ibis" include demonstrating great strength, proving to be ill-adapted for their environments, and dying after enduring a great physical feat.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One way that Doodle and the ibis are similar is that they both meet their tragic fates alone. Despite the time he spends helping his brother learn to walk and prepare for school, the narrator ultimately succumbs to his “streak of cruelty” and leaves Doodle behind in the storm. Similarly, the ibis is separated from its flock and meets its demise in an unlikely space. Even the narrator muses on the bird’s unusual fate:

How many miles had it traveled to die like this, in our yard, beneath the bleeding tree?

Similarly, Doodle works hard with his brother to improve his mobility and catch up to the other children’s development. Yet, when the storm poses a challenge that the boys did not anticipate, Doodle’s brother surpasses him simply because he can. The ibis’s fate represents the natural order in which some animals do not survive; however, Doodle’s thoughtfulness and compassion—shown throughout the story as he admires nature’s beauty, tags along with his moody brother, and volunteers to bury the ibis—is meant to remind the reader that humans can differ from this natural order in their behavior. While both Doodle and the ibis die alone in this story, their symbolic connection reminds the reader that humans are able to help one another when situations are complicated and that no one has to face their struggles alone.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Both the scarlet ibis and Doodle demonstrate great strength and tenacity. The bird has flown far from its origins in the tropics, perhaps driven by a need to explore more of the natural world than what exists near its home. Like the bird, Doodle is driven to explore nature despite his parents' early protests that he not exert himself too much. He and his brother thus spend much of their time in the "cool greenness of Old Woman Swamp." Both the bird and Doodle defy expectations, accomplishing greater physical feats than are expected of them.

Yet they also prove similar in their outcomes. Though the bird navigates itself all the way to North Carolina, the journey proves too much for its body. Exhausted from its effort, its wings hang loosely at its sides as it tries to maintain its position in the tree where Doodle finds it. Likewise, Doodle is unable to maintain a pace with his brother as they attempt to outrun the storm in the ending. When he gets out of the boat, the narrator notes that Doodle looks "tired" as he collapses into the mud. His fall is similar to the fall of the scarlet ibis, a final predictor that his physical struggles have become too much to bear.

Neither the scarlet ibis nor Doodle are well-suited for their environments. The bird has migrated beyond the realms of a habitat which is well-suited to supports its unique physical needs. Doodle has physical challenges which set him apart from the world around him. Though he attempts to be the brother the narrator wishes him to be, Doodle's physical challenges prove incompatible with that environment; he dies as his body succumbs to the environmental stresses which it is not capable of overcoming.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In James Hurst's poignant story of two brothers who compete against time, there are similarities between Doodle and the scarlet ibis.

The brother is six years old when Doodle is born in a caul, an amniotic membrane that encloses his tiny body. It is a membrane not unlike the transparent protein membranes of a bird's egg from which the ibis emerges. Later in the narrative, when the scarlet ibis lands in the bleeding tree, he perches in a precarious position, trying to flutter his wings in an uncoordinated manner. Suddenly, he becomes unable to hold himself up, and the bird falls to the ground. In death, its legs are crossed and its thin feet curved.

After rowing their boat ashore against the tide, Doodle is unable to run as fast as his angry and disappointed brother who hurries ahead in a storm. Although he tries to keep up with his brother, much like the poor bird, Doodle collapses, with his knees drawn up to hold his head. When the angry brother calms himself and turns back for Doodle, he finds his brother in a similar position as the collapsed bird, and he knows Doodle is dead: 

He had been bleeding from the mouth, and his neck and the front of his shirt were stained with a brilliant red.

The brother screams against the noise of the storm, throwing himself to the ground above Doodle. After lying there and crying for a long time, he gathers his brother in his arms.

I lay there crying, sheltering my fallen scarlet ibis from the heresy of rain.

Both Doodle and the scarlet ibis are too delicate for worldly storms.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Doodle and the Scarlet Ibis are similar in that both are rare and fragile beings.  Beautiful in their own way, yet oddly different and unusual.  The Ibis is red and in the end Doodle is left in a twisted pose similar to the Ibis and he, too, is red with blood.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The bird and Doodie are both different.
They are both rare.
They are both out of place, and fighting environments that are hostile to them.
They both die.
Both are red (the bird is red; Doodie bleeds).
Doodie "floats" above the expectations of others as the bird flies over head.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How are Doodle and his brother similar in "The Scarlet Ibis"?

Doodle and his brother are both determined.

Doodle and his brother are alike in that they do not give up.  When Doodle was born, everyone was sure he would die.  He was so small and sickly that they built a coffin for him.  Yet Doodle made it.  He lived, and everything was a struggle.  Still, he began to do more and more things regular kids could do.

Brother was also very dedicated.  He was bound and determined to teach Doodle to walk, even though everyone was sure that it was not possible.  Brother and Doodle did not give up. Just as Doodle taught himself to crawl, crawling backward but still crawling, Brother taught Doodle to walk. Neither of them gave in, ever.

Doodle is afraid to learn to walk at first.  Everyone has told him he can’t, and he asks his brother not to hurt him.  However, Doodle’s brother is convinced that with enough hard work they can beat the odds again.

It seemed so hopeless from the beginning that it's a miracle I didn't give up. But all of us must have something or someone to be proud of, and Doodle had become mine. I did not know then that pride is a wonderful, terrible thing, a seed that bears two vines, life and death.

Walking is a monumental struggle for Doodle.  At first all he can do is stand, and then he can take a few steps.  The two boys work on it very hard, pushing and pushing past what seems like the limits of endurance.

Doodle does learn to walk, shocking his parents.  The two boys keep Doodle’s walking a surprise, and on his sixth birthday they reveal it to the family members.  

Unfortunately, Doodle’s brother pushes him too far.  He doesn’t just want him to walk.  Doodle wants a brother who can run and jump and do the things normal kids do.  Doodle tries, but he is too weak and he dies.  His brother feels terrible, realizing that he seems to be the reason for his brother’s early death.  Sometimes pushing too hard is not a good thing.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What factors might make Doodle identify with the bird in "The Scarlet Ibis"?

Both Doodle and the Ibis are out of place. Doodle's family recognizes his vulnerability and therefore they treat him as if he could die at any moment. They care for him but regard him as somewhat of an outcast. This only begins to change when he starts to exhibit more "normal" behavior. They keep him segregated in the front bedroom. When he learns to walk, they bring him into the living room and this is when he finally "became one of us." Likewise, the ibis is an outcast. Father supposes that a storm blew the ibis off course from the south. It is in an environment it is not used to and doesn't know how to appropriately adapt. 

The main similarity between Doodle and the ibis is vulnerability. Damaged from the storm, the bird's wings don't work properly. It should be able to fly down from the tree but it tumbles awkwardly and falls to its death. Doodle is also saddled with a body that doesn't work as well as Brother's does. He tries to run and do all the things Brother can do, but his frail and vulnerable body can not keep up. 

Doodle recognizes how he and the ibis are both vulnerable and out of place. He sees the bird struggle to survive only to awkwardly fail. Doodle struggles to live up to Brother's concept of a "normal" brother. Doodle is so affected by the ibis's death that he won't eat dinner and he insists on burying the ibis himself. When he comes in from burying the ibis, he is "pale," the color and (symbolically) the life drained from his face. Perhaps the ibis's death reminds him of his own little coffin and his own mortality. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How is Doodle like the scarlet ibis?

The scarlet ibis of the story's title is a magnificent bird that makes an all-too-brief appearance in the Armstrongs' backyard. With its bright red feathers, the ibis clearly hails from more tropical climes. Unfortunately, the bird is also injured, and it isn't very long before it dies. Even so, in the short time that the Armstrongs saw it, it stood out magnificently among the trees.

Doodle also stands out from the crowd, albeit for radically different reasons. A young boy with disabilities, he's not like anyone else in his family or anyone else around him. Unfortunately, poor young Doodle dies, just like the scarlet ibis. As he lies dead, the blood running from his mouth conjures up the image of the injured bird as it spent its last moments on earth in the Armstrongs' tree.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How is Doodle like the scarlet ibis?

Neither the Scarlet Ibis nor Doodle are usual or regular. They both are "abnormal" in some way -- Doodle, due to the perception of his disability by others, and the ibis, due to its alien nature.

The lives of each parallel one another throughout the story, and as it draws to a close, both the ibis and Doodle die, nearly moments apart from each other.

The ibis's beauty is a metaphor for the life and existence of Doodle; despite his condition, he is seen as a beautiful individual. His brother's resentment becomes a factor in this story, as well.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are the similiarities and differences between Doodle and the ibis in "The Scarlet Ibis"?

I think a good a place to start comparing and contrasting the scarlet ibis and Doodle is their physical abilities. Both Doodle and the scarlet ibis are physically limited. We are told that the family sees that something just isn't quite right about how the bird is moving in the tree.

At that moment the bird began to flutter, but the wings were uncoordinated, and amid much flapping and a spray of flying feathers . . .

The bird appears to be uncoordinated in its movements, and the description of its movements and death is quite sad. Soon after, Doodle attempts to bury the bird, and his movements are also described as awkward.

Now we were watching him through the front window, but he didn't know it. His awkwardness at digging the hole with a shovel whose handle was twice as long as he was made us laugh . . .

Doodle and the bird might be comparable in how their movements are limited and awkward; however, a difference also exists in those movements. The scarlet ibis is awkward in its movements because it is injured. The bird has likely been injured in the storm that brought it to Doodle's house. On the other hand, Doodle's limitations are not caused by an injury that he received. Doodle's awkwardness and physical limitations are a result of genetics. He was born the way that he is, and he is able to do much of what he can do because of Brother's hard work.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are the similiarities and differences between Doodle and the ibis in "The Scarlet Ibis"?

Doodle and the scarlet ibis are both out of their elements: Doodle, who has a bad heart and mental limitations, is being forced by his brother to do the things that healthy children do in order to make him seem more normal. The ibis, too, is out-of-place on the family property: The bird has been lost in a storm and is hundreds of miles from its normal, tropical setting. They are both endangered species, and Doodle recognizes that the weakened, sick bird is not unlike himself. He is immediately attracted to the winged bird, which Doodle probably associates with angels. Later, the bird's color will also come to symbolize the bloodied Doodle's body. Meanwhile, the beautiful bird dies in the presence of its admirers, and Doodle buries it with ceremony; his own death comes alone--muddied, bloodied and rain-soaked--left behind by his older brother at a time when he most needs him.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on